Last November I traveled to Alaska to research a cover story for On Earth magazine. The idea was to go up there and see if global warming is changing the food web in any way. I got more than I bargained for. It rained the entire time I was there, which is itself an indication of how things are going up there. (It's usually snowing, and the ice should be freezing.) On Earth has just published the story online, and the print version should be on newsstands soon. We've also put together an audio slideshow, and I'll post a few photos of my own here. This is what it sounded like: Download 1058.
This is Kotzebue's controversial new sea wall, created to protect Front Street from autumn storms. Those weren't such a big problem in the past, as the sea would be frozen, and the storm would just whip up snow. Now with more open water later in the year, storms surge up against the town. Hence the wall. Note the melting band of water along the edge of the wall. This was taken on a day when locals were warned not to travel on the ice; the warm rain had made it too unstable.
The Nullagvik Hotel, Kotzebue's finest, was fully booked when I visited. People from outer villages who'd come to town for supplies or to visit relatives found themselves trapped in town when the sea and river ice melted. (Their inbound routes were on ice.) Some ended up chartering bush planes to get home, leaving their snowmachines in town and coming back for them later in the winter.
A typical scene in Kotzebue in November. Cemetary in the foreground, houses, then fuel tanks holding the diesel that powers the local electrical grid. It gets a little lighter during the day, but not much. This was taken around 2pm, when things were already getting dim.
Kotzebue operates some of the world's northernmost wind turbines, which are situated on a rise a couple miles outside of town. They help offset the heavy use of diesel, which can be brought in only during a summer window when ships can travel on the ice-free Chuckchi Sea. I spent an afternoon with two guys who are responsible for repairing and maintaining these things. Tough job.